Q
Do I need a Will?
A

Yes. Everyone should secure a will despite how large or small his or her estate may be. Without a will, there is no way to guarantee that your estate will be administered as you wish. This is especially important if you have minor children whose futures you want to ensure. Your estate not only consists of land, property, and money, but also smaller items, such as personal objects that hold sentimental value.  The assigned executor of your estate will also make sure all your business is in order, such as paying off debts and canceling all bank accounts, credit cards, and other business accounts.  Therefore, you want to be sure that your executor is someone you trust.

Q
How is property distributed if someone dies without a will in Georgia?
A

Without a legally binding will, your estate will be distributed according to the laws of intestate succession. If a married person dies without any surviving children, the surviving spouse is the sole heir.  If a spouse dies leaving surviving children, then the estate will be divided equally among the spouse and children, with descendants of a deceased child standing in the place of the deceased child.  However, if an estate is to be divided into more than three shares, the spouse will receive no less than a one-third part.

Q
Does all property that the decedent owns go through probate?
A

No. Generally, real property where the deed has both yours and your spouse’s name, such as your home, along with bank accounts and other accounts that are jointly owned, will automatically be in the complete ownership of your spouse (also known as the survivor.)  This is known as joint tenancy of survivorship.  Also, assets that have designated beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies, IRAs and 401(k)s, and living trusts, typically do not pass through probate and will go straight to the beneficiary.  However, testamentary trusts that are written in the will do go through probate.  All other property and assets you solely own, as well as a share of property known as “tenants in common” (property you share with someone in a partnership,) will pass through probate.  Of course, each case is different and there are can be exceptions.

Q
How long does probate take? 
A

Each case is different. Probate usually may take anywhere from six months to a year.  Though rare, if there is a court fight over the will or other complicated factors such as uncommon assets, probate may take longer than usual.